Mark Webber sweeps all before him to win in Silverstone sunshine
Australian makes pointed remark on radio at the end: ‘Not bad for a number two driver’
Vettel finishes seventh after dropping to the back with a rear puncture from first corner contact with Hamilton
But Brit takes second, with Nico Rosberg a strong third
Mark Webber today won an incident-filled British Grand Prix, with no sign of a performance discrepancy from running an old front wing. The Australian led from the second corner, edging his team-mate the polesitter Sebastian Vettel wide after Vettel’s poor start. Vettel was immediately forced back into the clutches of Lewis Hamilton, with whom he touched briefly in a similar manner to Valencia. That caused Vettel to suffer a puncture, and drop down the field, removing perhaps the only credible threat to Webber.
The talk before the race had all been about the two Red Bulls and the overnight controversy over the allocation of the new front wing part. The modified design had been given to Vettel, which many saw as overt favouritism of the German. Martin Brundle, as ever, was the voice of reason. “It’s their prerogative [who they give the wing to]. But it’s how you explain it. They can’t be surprised when we say it looks like favouritism.”
The fans, meanwhile, were cheering more in hope than expectation for the English-driven McLarens, in fourth and 14th on the grid. However, the tempestuous story at Red Bull was giving them hope that there would be a conflict between Vettel and Webber. It duly came to pass. Vettel’s start was not good, and he immediately had to cover by moving over towards Webber, but it was too late – Webber was through. They were briefly parallel through Copse, and although it may have looked like Webber was pushing his nemesis wide, in fact it was centrifugal force that was pushing him wide.
Fernando Alonso, third on the grid, had fallen prey to Lewis Hamilton, and went on to collide with a surging Felipe Massa through Becketts. It was not really either of their faults, but it is still not the done thing in the sport. Massa’s ensuing puncture ruined his race.
Jenson Button, meanwhile, had cheered everyone at the track up by getting up to eighth place by the end of the first lap. This was more to do perhaps with the chaos ahead of him than the Englishman’s own skill, but that was immaterial. He would now play a part in the race wholesale.
On lap 3, it was Webber, from Hamilton, Kubica (who had had a characteristically charging start), Rosberg, Alonso, Barrichello, Schumacher, Button, Kobayashi, Sutil, de la Rosa and Petrov. Webber had started to exhibit that devastating, metronomic pace that underlies his determination to win a race. His fastest lap of 1m37.659 on lap 2 was swiftly followed by another half a second quicker just two laps later.
The race quickly settled down. The main interest was not at the front, where Webber was steaming away and Hamilton was hanging on for dear life, but in third, where Kubica’s suspect race pace was being found out. Rosberg, immediately behind him, and Alonso behind him, were piling on the pressure. The temperature was also building in Alonso’s helmet. He had, for most insiders’ money, the second fastest car at Silverstone this weekend, and here he was in fifth and losing time by the lap to the leaders.
The extent of Webber’s advantage over Vettel, meanwhile, was becoming very evident. Vettel had pitted to replace his flat tyre, and consequently Webber was 1m27.240 ahead of his German rival. This was very nearly a lap, which meant that at some point Webber would catch Vettel and Vettel would have to back off and let him through. This would be the ultimate cathartic experience, you thought, for a man who just 24 hours had been classed as second driver in the team. What was more, he was almost a second a lap quicker than Vettel in real terms.
Michael Schumacher dived into the pits on lap 11, to take on the other compound of rubber. It quickly looked as though that might not have been the best idea, as the hards seemed to be the slower of the two on the cooler Silverstone track. Nevertheless, Alonso followed him in the following lap, with Barrichello and Kobayashi in reasonably close attendance. Alonso emerged into 12th, while Barrichello came out just behind him. Kobayashi, meanwhile, had come out ahead of Schumacher, which must have pleased the Japanese immensely. On lap 14, Robert Kubica pitted and made it out ahead of Alonso in their little net third-placed battle, but Rosberg was to be the real winner of all that. He came out in front of them both, and promptly set a fastest lap of 1m35.574 on lap 14 as if in celebration.
As if to prove that the hards were not the tyre to be on, Webber was closing down Vettel to the extent that they were now on the same straight. Hamilton dived into the pits just as onlookers were gearing up for more Bull on Bull action. He too opted for the hards, and no-one, least of all McLaren, knew how much it might affect him. Webber pitted on the next lap, lap 17. He came out comfortably ahead of Hamilton – there was in fact a net gain in his favour. Hamilton had his work cut out for him.
Meanwhile, Alonso had closed Kubica down and was fighting him. On lap 17 he was very close to the Pole at Vale, and got level with him, only to be forced onto the run-off by the Renault man’s unwillingness to yield. Alonso had therefore gained a place illegally, and would be expected to return it. He did not.
On lap 19, the order was as follows: Webber, Hamilton, Button (yet to pit), Hulkenberg (also yet to pit), Alguersuari (ditto), Rosberg, Alonso, Kubica, Barrichello, Kobayashi, Schumacher, de la Rosa, Sutil, Petrov, Liuzzi, Buemi, Trulli, Massa, Kovalainen, Glock, Vettel, Chandhok and Yamamoto.
Hamilton was by this time setting about Webber. He put the idea that the hards were inferior to bed with a fastest lap of 1m35.5, and was visibly wrestling the McLaren. “I was flat-chat,” he would say later. “I tried to treat every lap like a qualifying lap.” He could do nothing, sadly for the throng of supporters, about Mark Webber, who was in his own world in terms of pace. By lap 22, Webber was gaining an average of half a second per lap on poor Hamilton.
Robert Kubica would then go on to have the most controversial retirement of the race. With the stewards yet to pronounce on whether Alonso’s dealings with him had been above board, something broke on the Renault that in all honesty had not been at the cutting edge of pace. “Something broke on the diff,” said Kubica afterwards. But where did this leave Alonso, who hadn’t received any punishment for his misdemeanour? Most thought the stewards would just leave it. It surely would not be fair to issue a retrospective penalty. Ferrari were not having a great race, as it was. Felipe Massa was fighting with the likes of Buemi and Liuzzi for 14th position.
Suddenly all the attention was focused on the pit straight, where de la Rosa was trying to defend from a combative and speedy Adrian Sutil. The Spaniard swept across in front but hit Sutil’s nose: the damage was more to the Sauber than the Force India. A piece of wing flew up in the air, debris scattering the pit straight. As they made it onto the Hangar Straight, more flew off de la Rosa’s machine. Enough, cried the powers that be. The Safety Car was sent out so that more punctures would not be caused.
Those same authorities had decided that now was also the time to issue Fernando Alonso with a drive-through penalty for overtaking Robert Kubica unlawfully. It was a double-whammy – not only would Alonso suffer a sizeable punishment for a relatively small offence (and one whose significance had greatly diminished with Kubica’s retirement), but he would also serve it after the Safety Car went in, which meant literally everyone in the field would get an advantage over the poor Spaniard. Ferrari must have been incandescent. You could also imagine Alonso being madder than ever in the cockpit. He asked his team, with as much control as possible, not to speak to him for the rest of the grand prix.
On lap 30 the Safety Car came in. Hamilton, having sat on Webber’s right rear tyre as close as possible through the complex, was always going to lose out as they went onto the pit straight. He was not close enough. There was conflict down the field, though. Sutil was threatening Michael Schumacher, and clipped him as he went through.
The order, on lap 34, was now Webber, Hamilton, Rosberg, Button, Barrichello, Kobayashi, Sutil, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, Petrov, Alguersuari, Vettel, Massa, Liuzzi, Buemi, Alonso, Trulli, Glock, Kovalainen, Chandhok and Yamamoto.
The big winner of all this, as you might have noticed from that list, was Vettel. The race was finally coming to the young German, 12th as he was and with a distinctive sniff of points. He was soon past Alguersuari, Petrov and Hulkenberg into ninth. He would be up against Michael Schumacher next, who this year has shown a dislike of being passed by those he perhaps believes are his rightful peers. It was not easy for Vettel, and he nearly went on the grass as they came up to Brooklands, but the end the sheer performance of the Red Bull was too much for the elder German. Vettel was not done yet. There was Sutil up next, and he went about him at a rate of half a second per lap. From lap 43 on he had caught Sutil, but the Force India man is a wily defender, and it would take Vettel nearly ten laps to force his way past in what was a very entertaining battle. Breathing down their necks, for added fun, was a wronged Michael Schumacher and Nico Hulkenberg with a very swift Williams under him.
Ferrari’s miserable day continued. Massa spun at Woodcote in a bizarre replay of an incident a few years ago in the rain, and took an enforced pit stop, for which his pit crew were clearly unprepared. Alonso was STILL trying to pass Vitantonio Liuzzi, a feat he had been working on for five laps on more. Eventually, on lap 48, frustration got the better of the Asturian and he steamed past, but touched Liuzzi. It caused a puncture. Nothing, it seemed, would go right today.
As the race wound down we lost Jaime Alguersuari in the gravel at Woodcote, but otherwise the race had gone quiet. Webber took the win, with Hamilton second, Rosberg third and Button fourth. Barrichello was an excellent fifth, Kobayashi a deserved sixth, Sutil seventh, Schumacher, Hulkenberg, and Liuzzi tenth.
It was a victory in more than one way for Webber. Not at all bad for a number two driver. But Vettel might add that this is not yet over.